Pentecost 20 – Sunday, October 7, 2018

October 7, 2018  
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Mark 10:13-16

Let the children come.”

Everybody loves children (or almost everybody). Children are cute. Children are silly. Children are smart. Children are clever. Children surprise us.

When Jesus said to the disciples “Let the children come” most of us probably heard those words and through “Well yes, obviously. We want children here. Let them come.”

Here’s the thing. When Mark’s gospel was written people did not think children were cute, or silly, or smart, or clever, or surprising. In that time, children were worth about as much as a goat. And if someone was milking the goat, or planning to eat it, children were probably worth less! Children were non-persons.

In biblical times, children had no status. They were possessions on their fathers, just as their mothers were possessions of the father/husband. Children were politically, economically and socially dependent. They had not rights unless their fathers chose to give them some.

Which explains why the disciples didn’t want any children bothering Jesus. The children were in the way. The children were unimportant. The children had no reason to be near Jesus. The disciples saw the children as interruptions, as disruptions.

Then Jesus said “Let the children come.”

His words would have shocked anyone there to hear him.

Let the children come.”

To Jesus, those children were real people.

Jesus said Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

Do not mistake this. Jesus isn’t telling us we have to be cute or silly or smart or clever or surprising. Jesus is telling us no one has merit. No one has special status. None of us deserve all of the love and grace God showers upon us. And yet  God loves us. God loves each and every one of us. Always and forever, God loves us.

Like the children in this gospel story, who depended on their fathers for any kind of right or privilege, we are radically dependent on God. God favors us with grace and peace and love.

In gospel times, children were “non-persons.” Who might the “non-persons” be in our time and in our lives. Who are the people we tend not to see? Is it the person who picks up our garbage? Or the person cleaning the toilets? Or is it the person we pass on the sidewalk, whose eyes we don’t meet? The person in the grocery store in line ahead of us? The person standing at a stoplight with a sign, asking for money? They have no name… they have no authority over us. Who are they?

Who are the people we tend not to see?

They are we.

This isn’t one of those “there but by the grace of God goes I.” This is a “There I am.” I am he. I am she. I am they.

You are, I am the most powerless person we know, You are, I am the least rewarded person we know. You are, I am the abandoned. The forsaken.

We all stand before God as equals, receiving the same love. Receiving the same grace. Receiving the same forgiveness.

There is no room for arrogance in God’s kingdom. There is no room for privilege in God’s kingdom. There is no room for those who patronizingly sneer at others, or ridicule others, or abuse others, or disregard others, or regard others as less than… believing this is what God would have them do.

God would not. We must not.
We must
Let the children come.

Amen.

 

Pentecost 19 – Sunday, September 30, 2018

September 30, 2018  
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Mark 9:38-50

This is a tough text…
I don’t mean tough to figure out I mean tough to hear.
This text calls us to examine ourselves. This text calls us to look inside ourselves, to see our sin, and to make every effort to turn things around. And—we are called to do those things not necessarily for ourselves (although it might save us from a lifetime of suffering), but for others.
Jesus does not want us to become stumbling blocks for others. He doesn’t want us to get in the way of others who are trying to live as his followers.

The disciples saw someone “casting out demons” in the name of Jesus. The person doing the “casting out” wasn’t one of them, wasn’t a disciple. So they tried to stop him.
The disciples’ attempts to silence the man smack of arrogance. He wasn’t a member of their group—he was an outsider. He needed to be stopped.

There’s an ethical theory known as Cultural Relativism which teaches that moral decision-making is dependent upon our cultures. So, what might be morally correct in one culture could be morally incorrect in another. The goal of the theory it to teach both respect and tolerance.

Applied to today’s gospel reading, the theory would tell us:
The disciples have created their own cultural identity. Their culture tells them they have a certain knowledge of right and wrong. Their knowledge of right and wrong tells them: only they can cast out demons in Jesus’ name.

The other man thinks it is ok for him to cast out demons. No one knows how or why he believes he believes this. The theory says, whatever the roots of his belief, He can believe his actions are ok. He has that freedom.

According to the theory, what the disciples and the man casting our demons need to recognize is that they each have different moral beliefs on the subject of casting out demons, and then respect those different beliefs. Cultural Relativism calls them to co-exist, respecting their differences.

The problem with Cultural Relativism is exactly the point Jesus made to his disciples. Sometimes what we think is right, or what our culture or group tells us is right, is actually wrong! According to Jesus, the disciples were wrong in their thinking because their thinking led them to believe there is only one way to do things: their way. Which meant other people weren’t being given the chance to minister in the name of Jesus.

The disciples were being exclusive. They were being arrogant. They were becoming, in the language of Jesus, stumbling blocks.

The reason we are having a service of Corporate Confession and Forgiveness today is because of what Jesus tells the disciples to do. He tells them to stop calling other people out for what they are doing, and to look inside themselves. What are they thinking? What are they feeling? What are they doing? If what they think, feel, do causes themselves or others to stumble, they need to cut it out.

Literally.
Stop it.

And so we are told to look inside ourselves. What are we thinking? What are we feeling? What are we doing? If what we think, what we feel, what we do causes us to stumble, and more importantly causes others to stumble, we need to cut it out.

Maybe, like the disciples, we think our way of doing things is the only way to do things.
Cut it out. Be open to new ways of thinking and new ways of doing. Our arrogance will kill us.

What Jesus offers the disciples, and what the gospel offers us by telling this story, is a new way of living. He offers, the gospel story provides a moral principle—a statement of belief we can base our decisions on.

Jesus believes “whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40).

Jesus is trying to expand the disciples’ vision of community.
May we, as we examine our hearts and minds and actions, expand our understandings of community. May we open ourselves to new ideas and new ways of doing.

None of us wants to be stumbling blocks.
We want to be loved and we want to be loving.
Thanks be to God, God does love us. And God forgives us our sin—even as God calls us to do and to be better.
Amen.

Pentecost 18 – Sunday, September 23, 2018

September 23, 2018  
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Mark 9:30-37

They called it the National Youth Gathering back then.
This one was held in Denver.
It was 1985.

My mentor and friend, Pastor Duane Hanson, was there with a group of youth from Bethel Lutheran Church in Madison. Former President Jimmy Carter was the keynote speaker on opening day. When the Gathering broke-up at mid-day, Duane asked a couple of friends to wait with him outside of McNichols Arena. He wanted to see if he could take a photo of the former president, and perhaps even shake his hand.

They waited in the heat. And they waited. And he, being who he was, struck up a conversation with a mother and her daughter who were also outside the arena waiting. Duane discovered he knew the woman’s husband.

The woman’s daughter was in a wheelchair. The daughter was recovering from surgery. She had bone cancer.

While they spoke, Duane and his friends noticed a “flurry of activity” (Hanson sermon, p. 2 1985). Duane wrote “secret service, convention organizers, local police… were all moving. And there he was… President Carter coming out the door. I had my camera ready…two clicks. Now time to shake hands. I did… [then] President Carter spotted my friend’s daughter in the wheelchair. He broke stride with his secret service. Over to the wheelchair he went… reached down to my friend’s daughter… gave her a hug and a kiss… and a word of hope. It was a touching moment. He didn’t have to do it. He was [running] late. The cars were running. The secret service wanted to move him out. But he paused along the way and gave a stranger an unexpected kiss… She was elated. It was a grace-filled moment” (Hanson p. 2).

Jesus asked his disciples “What were you arguing about?”
They were silent.
They didn’t want him to know they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.
Jesus sat down. He said “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
Then he took a little child into his arms. He said “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:33-37).

Turn on your tv or listen to a podcast or catch a news clip on social media and you are bound to hear someone brag about being the great whoever who just did the greatest whatever that has happened in all whenever. Bragging, boasting, self-conceit permeate our culture. These messages all run counter to the culture of our faith, a culture that makes CLEAR: the first must be last and servant of all.

Fox, Megan and Morgan, on your affirmation of faith day the best message your faith can teach you is to know that God loves you. The 2nd best message your faith can teach you is that the first must be last and servant of all.

God does not call us to be boastful. God does not call us to conceit. God calls us to service: to love others as we have been loved and then to serve others as best we can.

Christianity is not a religion about self. Christianity is not a religion that asks “What’s in it for me.” Christianity is a religion of love, a religion of humility, a religion that always, ALWAYS seeks out what is best for the other or others.

When Jesus took a little child into his arms he wasn’t looking for the best photo-op to post on Snapchat or Instagram. He was making a point. He was telling his disciples to pay attention to those who get the least attention, to recognize the needs of those who are the most needy, to offer support to those unable to support themselves. He was pointing out what probably seemed obvious to him, but clearly was not obvious to his disciples. True discipleship does not bring greatness, it does not bring fame—in fact for Jesus the way of the cross was a path of suffering and death.
And resurrection.  Jesus always promises new life.

Once upon a real time there was a little girl in a wheelchair who had bone cancer. She was kissed by a United States president, a kiss only a few bystanders saw.
That’s greatness.
That’s what Jesus would do.
That’s what Jesus would have us do.
Amen.

Rally Sunday, September 16, 2018

September 16, 2018  
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2 Timothy 3:14-17

I was born to be a pastor.

I learned to be a good teacher.

Both are important and both are a part of who I am.

Which is why today is so dog-gone important to me. Because on this day: Rally Day, we are all called to rally ourselves, to rally our minds and our spirits around the Word of God. On this day we remember and we embrace that we are called to enter into a discipline of learning and teaching. We need to know and to understand what it means to be a child of God; we need to k now and to understand what it means to be God’s servants in the world.

A scholar wrote about the verses I just read from 2 Timothy:

The purpose of Scripture is the purpose of good schooling—to produce the well-instructed and disciplined adult, proficient and well equipped in the graces and skills required for a positive role in church and society…

                                    (The New Interpreter’s Bible vol. 11, p. 852)

Which is just a fancy way of saying we want to grow good kids here, and we want to have understanding adults. We want our adults to understand holy scripture, to understand Lutheran tradition, to understand the things we need to know as followers of Christ so we can teach our children.

Learning is lifelong.

Which is why we begin today a journey we are calling AB-Yes!

AB:

Affirmation of Baptism.

To affirm is to say “yes” to something. To affirm our baptism is to say yes to what God has done in our lives.

Saying “yes” to baptism is to say “uh huh!” Saying “yes” to baptism is to say “I want to be a child of God. Saying “yes” to baptism is to say I want to be a follower of Christ. Saying “yes” to baptism is to say I celebrate that I have been washed in the waters of baptism; I celebrate that God has cleansed me of my sin. Saying “uh huh” is to say that I know God forgives me and I revel in that forgiveness.

AB-Yes! is a process I have designed for use here at Our Savior’s, a learning process that one can begin in third grade, if one chooses, or later if one wants. AB-Yes! is a learning process anyone at any age can take part in. AB-Yes! takes the place of what was once known as confirmation, and it takes the place of what was once known as Sunday School. AB-Yes! is our attempt to embrace the needs of modern families while at the same time calling all of us at all ages to think about our need to learn about our faith and our need to affirm our faith—to say “yes!” to God and God’s gracious activity again and again and again.

We begin AB-Yes! this morning, with this sermon and with the intergenerational learning experience I will lead in Fellowship Hall, beginning at 10:30am. It will end by 11am.

I was thinking about my own experiences as a child, growing up in a traditional Lutheran family, going to worship and to Sunday School every week. I was trying to remember what Sunday School was like for me, what we did.

I actually began remembering a lot of things: memorizing bible verses, singing songs, collecting offerings to send overseas, doing crafts. I remember high school Sunday School, my teacher and the books we read together and the incredible conversations we had. My favorite memory was from when I was in Sunday School as a youngster. I remember my classmates and myself sitting around a kidney shaped table. I remember looking across the huge room at other children sitting at other kidney shaped tables. I remember seeing another member of my family leaning with his/her head under the table, picking his/her nose. I remember feeling mortified! And amused.

Learning in the context of a congregation is vital. We need to learn what our faith tells us about what it means to live in this world. We need to learn what scripture teaches us about ourselves and about others. We need to learn what God expects of us as God’s children—whatever our age.

Most importantly, we need to learn all the different ways God expresses God’s love for us and for the world.

This is why we rally today.

This is why we gather. To hear. To learn. To know. To believe. To share. To have hope in God’s wonderful promises.

Amen.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

September 12, 2018  
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Luke 10:1-12

This past Sunday Pastor Melissa Melnick was here with friends, her sister, and folks from her church in Richfield, MN. Pastor Melissa is on a journey in memory of her son Chris, who died a year ago. Chris accidently drowned in the Mississippi River. As Melissa describes him, Chris was an outgoing, compassionate young man who wrote poetry, cared about the world, and loved the river. He planned to ride the length of the Mississippi as a treat to himself after he graduated from college. When he was lost in the river (they didn’t find his body for 10 days) Melissa made a promise, that she would ride the river road with Chris if he was found alive, or in his memory.

This past week she began her journey in his memory.

When I offered our congregation as a place to stop on her journey, Pastor Melissa offered to preach at our service. She pastors a mission congregation that is engaged in outreach. Their congregation is diverse, with Hispanic, African American, Caucasian, Chinese, young, old, LGBTQ folks gathering twice a month in the evening for three things:

  • Worship
  • Food
  • Education

The congregation, called Tapestry, offers English as a Second Language classes and Spanish Classes. They practice the spiritual discipline of hospitality, much like we do. In fact, when they were here for breakfast Sunday, it was noted that each of them when they cleared their plates, also took the plate or plates of someone else to the kitchen to be cleaned.

The reading from Luke is the text Pastor Melissa chose to preach on. I’m not going to share her sermon with you. But I have a few thoughts of my own on the text I want to share in the context of Pastor Melissa’s visit and the work she does with her people.

Twice in the reading Jesus instructed the people he sent out to tell the people they visited “The kingdom of God has come near.”

The kingdom of God has come near.

So often, I think people hear those words as a threat—the kingdom of God has come near, so you better make a choice. Choose Jesus or not. Receive Jesus or not.

This past weekend has led me to think differently about God’s kingdom coming near. Maybe I’m thinking differently because of my sermon last Wednesday—and my thoughts about God’s love coming to us and then flowing through us to others.

What a blessing it is to receive and experience God’s love! And then, to be with others who know the same joy!

Sunday afternoon, the people from Tapestry (Pastor Melissa’s church) all came over to my house. Martha is a Mexican woman who speaks little English. She came into the house carrying a bag of groceries. Pastor Melissa told me Martha wanted to cook for us. Ok! So Martha and I stood in the kitchen trying to communicate with each other, her trying to tell me what she needed to cook, me trying to figure out what she was telling me and then find what she needed. It was fun. It was funny. The food she cooked was wonderful. It was such a moment of joy and pleasure to all be standing together in my kitchen, eating Chilaquiles.

The kingdom of God has come near.

When we gather together as children of God, and when we gather with others, we bring the kingdom of God with us… the kingdom of God is near.
We can gather with strangers who are brothers and sisters in faith, as our congregation did this past weekend—and literally feel the reality of God’s kingdom.

Serving God is such a privilege, such a pleasure, such a joy. Each of us is called to serve, to go out, to physically be present with others. We might never say the words “The kingdom of God has come near” but the reality of the kingdom will be known by those we meet.

God’s kingdom will be known, will be felt, because God’s love flows into our lives and out again.

This is all such a blessing.
All we can say, knowing God’s blessings, is “thanks be to God.”
Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

September 5, 2018  
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1 Corinthians 13:1-13

This past weekend Jeanne and I drove down to Rockford, IL for the wedding of one of my nieces, a wedding I was asked to preach at. The text the couple marrying selected was from 1 Corinthians 13.

They selected what is commonly known as the “love chapter.” St. Paul wrote these words a long time ago to the congregation he started in Corinth. The members of his congregation weren’t getting along so well. They were bickering about a few different things. What they were bickering about isn’t that important to us. What is important is Paul’s answer, Paul’s solution to the bickering.
P
aul’s answer was to write about love—not just any kind of love, about the kind of love that comes from God.

Every marriage needs God’s love if that marriage is to succeed. But God’s love isn’t limited to marriage. God’s love is received by each of us as individuals. God’s love is a gift God gives us that permeates every relationship we have—or at least it ought to.

The first thing to know about God’s love is that it comes from God and it isn’t yours. God’s love is not just for you. The love that we share in our marriages, or in our families, or in our friendships, or in our work places… that love didn’t originate in our hearts, it was given to our hearts as a gift from God. The love we receive flows into us from God, and now flows through us to each other, and then
Again to others we are in relationship with.

Which points us to the second thing we need to know about the love we share.  Because it comes to us as a gift from God, it isn’t meant for only us; God’s love isn’t ours to hoard. The love we receive is a love that is a gift given that is given to be shared. So not only does it flow into our hearts and out again, to spouses or children or other loved ones—God’s love is a gift that is meant to be shared with everyone needing it. We are called to share God’s love with friends. You are called to share God’s love with family. We are called to share God’s love with strangers who for whatever reason need to know or feel loved.

Look around at the marriages you see that work best, at the families that function well, to the congregations that are active and joyful. I’m guessing most of those

Relationships or communities work the way they do, not because the marriage couple only has eyes for each other, or the family loves each other, or the church cares for each other– but  because the couple knows the love they share is way bigger than the two of them. And the family knows the love they have is meant to live beyond the doors of their home. And the congregation knows the love they share is meant to flow outwards, not back in on themselves. And so they share God’s love, not just with each other but also with others.

The worst way to approach a marriage is to ask:
What’s in it for me?
The best way to approach a marriage is to ask:
What’s best for you (the other person in the marriage)?

The worst way to approach a family is to ask:
What’s in it for us?
The best way to approach a family is to ask:
What’s best for every member, and then for all the people we encounter as we live our lives outside of our home?

The worst way to approach being a church is to ask:
What’s in it for us?
Again, the best way to approach being a church is to ask:
What’s can we do for our neighborhood, for our community, for the world?

God has given us a great gift. A gift of love.
Don’t hold onto it tightly, let that love live.
Let God’s love grow. Share God’s love. Share God’s love with each other.
Share God’s love with those you love most.
Share God’s love with the world.

Thanks be to God for the love we have received.
Amen.

14th Sunday of Pentecost – Sunday, August 26, 2018

August 27, 2018  
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Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18

It could have been the Mall of America. Except Europeans hadn’t settled the northern Midwest. And there was no such thing as a Mall. But—if those things had happened or did exist, I think Joshua might have spoken different words than what he did to the elders, the heads of tribes, the judges, and the officers of Israel. He might have walked them through the Mall, passing by store after store, describing their options.

He demanded the leaders of Israel make a choice, telling them to “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).

Many gods were served in Joshua’s day. Each tribe had their own god… Joshua named the gods of the leaders’ ancestors and the gods of the Amorites. Dozens if not thousands of other gods existed.

In our day and age, walking through a mall or a strip of stores, we would be seeing more modern gods.

The gods of wealth. Look in the leather store, the jewelry store, the clothing store with furs and silk suits. Serve the gods of wealth and you might possess exotic gems, golds, silver…

The gods of pleasure. We are tempted by foods, by scents, by flavors, by the feel of fine fabrics or an expensive wine. Expensive caviar. Cases of champagne. Illicit drugs. Erotica.

Then there are other gods we worship, gods not found in stores but in systems:

The gods of power. We might desire political power. Economic power. Social power. We maintain those systems that grant us ethnic or racial privilege.

The gods of privilege. We maintain those systems that grant us ethnic or racial privilege.

What might our response be if we were asked to “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).

We know what our answer is supposed to be. We know what we are supposed to choose. We know we are supposed to choose God.

Then we look at our lives. What do our lives suggest we serve?Whom do we serve? What do we serve?

The choice to serve God is the choice to be self-less. This choice is so difficult. The choice to serve God feels prut-near impossible! We are bombarded by so many other things, other people, other needs that tempt us. And yet… and yet God calls us to love others more than self, to serve others more than self, to sacrifice self for others.

The choice to serve God is a choice that becomes a bit simpler when we make the choice knowing we are not alone, when we know we join a community of other people who have made the same choice. Which is one of the many reasons why Church, why congregations become so important to us. Here in this place, as in all other congregations around the world, we have a people gathered in the name of Christ, a people working together to live lives of abundance—where the abundance we celebrate is the abundance of love. Not money, not power, not prestige—love! God’s love!

Here in this place we join our voices together, telling each other and telling others the choice we have made. We declare together: as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

Say it if you believe it: As for me and my household. We will serve the Lord.

May God be with as us in our service to God.

Amen.

13th Sunday of Pentecost – Sunday, Augsut 19, 2018

August 19, 2018  
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Proverbs 9:1-6 and John 6:51-58 

 I get greedy when I have texts like this to preach on. I want to live in the text, to roll around in its meaning and savor every possibility. The book of Proverbs is a collection, a collation of thoughts, all explaining to its readers how we ought to live. And, when we are talking about how we ought to live, we are talking about morality. Which means we are talking about ethics. Proverbs is a textbook on ethics. Yeah!

Scholars believe the book of Proverbs was written as a textbook for wealthy young men. (See “Proverbs” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 3 or in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 5). A scholar wrote

Prudent and moral behavior is the concern of Proverbs; it is a how-to book.
The skill it teaches is how to please God and live sensibly and well. Virtue
is not commended for its own sake; it is related to the will of God, and it leads to success…

            The book of Proverbs is a moral book and a fund of wisdom… human wisdom, the fruit of human experience—its distinction: that it relates sensible living inextricably with walking humbly. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 3, p. 940).

So what do we learn from Proverbs 9:1-6?

In this text we find Lady Wisdom preparing food and drink, preparing what seems to be an elaborate meal. Animals have been slaughtered. Wine has been mixed. The table has been set. The servants have been sent forth, calling out Lady Wisdom’s invitation: Turn in here! Come, eat of my bread, drink of my wine. Lay aside immaturity and live. Walk in the way of insight!

Wisdom’s “house” is the world, beyond the world, the cosmos! The food and drink she offers are the life-giving gifts of creation. (TNIB, vol. 5, p. 103). She promises: “Those who give up their foolish self-direction for love of Wisdom gain genuine life” (TNIB, vol. 5, p. 104).

Notice, the way of insight depends on who, on what we love. If we love Wisdom we “gain genuine life.” If we choose to love the opposite, known as folly in Proverbs, goodness is destroyed.

To paraphrase St. Augustine: Thus, though Wisdom was [herself] our home, [she] made [herself] also the way by which we should reach our home (as quoted in TNIB, vol. 5,p. 104).

To ask the question of morality, then, is to ask: how ought we live? How ought you live? How ought I live?

As Christians, we live according to Christ, who revealed the Wisdom of God in his own flesh and blood.

Jesus said “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” (John 6:56).

We are invited to not only take and eat, take and drink, we are invited to LIVE in Jesus, to make our home in Jesus. And Jesus promises us Jesus will live in us.
When we eat the bread of life, living into the promises of Jesus Christ, we live into the promise of eternal life Jesus offers.

We live according to the Wisdom of Christ, which is the wisdom of love. We live love in our own lives, in our homes and in our neighborhoods; we live love in our cities and in our state. We present ourselves to the world as people living in love. God’s love. A love that is for us, but much more importantly is for the world. As such, it is a love that is never about us as much as it is about others.

Our morality is a morality of love. Our morality is a morality of God’s love. Our morality is a morality that leads us to serve others before self. Our morality is a morality of sacrifice because we are called to serve others as Christ has served us, because Christ has served us.

Sometimes it takes a lifetime to understand the way Christ calls us to live, to understand the sacrifices God calls us to make, to understand that life is not about self, but about other. Some may choose to never understand.
Those who do, those who hear Lady Wisdom’s invitation and choose to dine at her table, those who abide in Christ, choose to abide in everlasting love. Thanks be to God!
Amen.

The Twelfth Sunday of Pentecost – Sunday, August 12, 2018

August 12, 2018  
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John 3:35, 41-51

Weeks ago, when I was preparing the service for today I ran across a quote that seems to have gotten stuck in my thinking. Attributed to Martin Luther, the quote is

We are all mere beggars showing other beggars where to find bread.

This operates on so many levels…
There’s the bread that we eat.
There’s the “bread” that, back when I was growing up, was slang for money.
“Bread” can mean that which sustains us, physically or spiritually.

Jesus said “I AM the bread of life” (John 6:35).

Are we begging for food?
Are we begging for money?
Are we begging for that which sustains us?
Are we begging for Jesus? Not on behalf of Jesus but for Jesus—to have Jesus.

Do we want to answer yes to one of those questions, to two of those questions, to all of those questions? Our answers will vary but the truth is, we need all of those things, in varying amounts.

We are all mere beggars showing other beggars where to find bread.

When Jesus said “I AM the bread of life, he had already fed 5,000 with a few loaves of bread and some fish. He had already walked on water, terrifying his disciples and yet calming the storm they were caught in.

When Jesus said “I AM the bread of life” his words harkened back to words God spoke to Moses, generations before. God called out to Moses from a burning bush, saying “Moses, Moses! And he [Moses] said “Here I am.” (Exodus 3:4) God went on to tell Moses God wanted Moses to free the Israelites from slavery. Moses asked

“If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘the God of your ancestors has    sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to    them?” God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ God said further, ‘thus you shall say to the Israelites, I AM has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:13-14).

“I AM WHO I AM.”
“I AM has sent me to you.”
“I AM the bread of life.”

We are all mere beggars showing other beggars where to find bread.

Henri Nouwen was a Roman Catholic priest who wrote in his book The Road to Daybreak “The gospel of John… was written for mature spiritual persons who do not want to argue about elementary issues, but who want to be introduced into the mysteries of divine life” (p. 58).
Here we have a mystery. What bread do we seek? Do we seek the bread of life?

To paraphrase Nouwen, again from The Road to Daybreak (p. 71):
There is a way of living, there is a way of praying, there is a way of being with people, there is a way of caring, there is a way of eating, there is a way of drinking, there is a way of sleeping, there is a way of reading, there is a way of writing in which Jesus truly is center.
Perhaps we should say, there is a way of begging wherein we seek that which we need to be our center, that which is Jesus.

We beg for the I AM.

In the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks; broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: ‘Take and eat; this is my body, given for you… (Words of Institution, ELW p. 108).

This bread is ours.

This bread has been given for us and for all people.

The I AM is ours.

Finally, we reach the truth of the mystery:
There is no need to beg. God’s gift has been given to the world. God gave us Jesus. The bread of life. God gave us Jesus, who longs to be at the center of all we say, at the center of all we think, at the center of all we feel, at the center of all we do.

The I AM is ours. Given for us and for all people. Thanks be to God.
Amen.

The Tenth Sunday of Pentecost – Sunday, July 29, 2018

July 29, 2018  
Filed under Sermons

2 Kings 4:42-44
John 6:1-21

It’s a miracle!

Those are the words we use when something happens we can’t explain. It’s a miracle!

Today’s readings bring a series of miracles to our attention.
Elisha fed 100 people with several small loaves of bread and a few fish.
Jesus fed 5,000 people with even less: 5 loaves of bread and two fish.
Then Jesus walked on water.

Elisha was known for performing miracles: he cleaned poisoned water (2 Kings 2:22); he provided an endless stream of oil to a widowed woman who needed money to pay her creditors (she was able to sell the oil) (2 Kings 4:1-7); he raised a woman’s son from the dead (2 Kings 4:32-37); he purified a pot of poisonous stew (2 Kings 4:38-41).

All four gospels tell story after story of miracles Jesus performed. Healings. Exorcisms. Resurrection. Turning water into wine. Feeding crowds of people. Walking on water.

One might wonder, what’s the point of these miracle stories? What are the storytellers trying to tell us? What are the storytellers trying to give us?

Although miracle stories are dramatic in their own way, as one scholar wrote, they are also “mundane” (The New Interpreter’s Bible vol. 3, p. 191). What he was trying to say was that many of the miracles stories in the bible address every-day common needs.  For example, our need for food.

I am fortunate, just as some of you are. When we get hungry we go open the refrigerator and look at what there is to eat. Or we open a cupboard. Or we look in a pantry. Or we run to the nearest gas station or grocery store and buy what we need.

Not everyone in the world is so fortunate. Not everyone in this sanctuary is so fortunate.  When a person is hungry and has nothing to eat, what might seem mundane to one person becomes horribly real to the person who hungers. We know this even if we don’t KNOW this.

Miracles aren’t just miracles… they become stories of necessity.

When folks are hungry, really hungry they need to eat.
When folks are sick they need healing.
When someone owes money to someone else the debt needs to be paid.
Dirty water needs to be cleaned.

What I like most about the story of Elisha feeding 100 people and about the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 is a simple point that is often overlooked.

Both miracles occurred because, in each instance, one person had food that one person was willing to share.  In Elisha’s story, there wouldn’t have been bread there to share if one man hadn’t brought bread to Elisha as an offering. That one man’s bread fed 100 people. In the story of Jesus feeding 5,000, Jesus wouldn’t have been able to feed them if there hadn’t been one little boy who brought bread and fish and was willing to give it to the disciples to share with others.

It takes one person’s kindness for miracles to happen. One person!

Imagine what we all have the power to do, together!

God can and God does work miracles in and through us. God calls us to care. God calls us to share, and miracles happen.

It is a miracle every week that we have food to share, people to prepare, and people to assist us as we serve supper on Tuesday nights. More and more people are coming. This past week the line didn’t end for over 30 minutes. People just kept coming. We served 275 meals!

God provides. God works in and through us and God provides. There is hope. There are miracles. May our generosity continue to bring miracles to this community and to the world.

Amen.

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